Father, Son Allege Priest Sex Abuse
Conte, Parent Differ over Report

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette [Massachusetts]
August 17, 2002

Worcester - The Rev. John J. Szantyr, who had been assigned to Our Lady of Czestochowa parish, left the parish 15 years ago after Worcester police were notified he might have molested a boy in the parish.

Richard Chesnis of Worcester, father of alleged victim Michael Chesnis, said he, his former wife and the boy went to the police station and met with officers of the sexual assault unit.

"He fled while we were in the station. I don't know who told him," Mr. Chesnis said.

District Attorney John J. Conte said yesterday the allegation is under investigation by his office and the Worcester Police Department. He declined to discuss the investigation further.

The statue of limitations may not have expired if it is determined that the priest left the state.

Mr. Chesnis said he believes Rev. Szantyr went to Connecticut, because he is a native of Waterbury. A spokeswoman for the Bridgeport Diocese said Rev. Szantyr is not a priest of that diocese, although his brother is assigned there.

Mr. Chesnis said the subject of the alleged abuse arose when he and his son were driving to Auburn Mall one day. The son asked his father whether it was "OK" for two males to have genital contact.

"It came right out of the blue," Mr. Chesnis said. "I asked him why he would ask the question and he replied, 'I did it with Father John.' "

Daniel J. Shea, a lawyer in Houston and Worcester, is representing Michael Chesnis and not the father. He said he recently wrote a letter to Mr. Conte inquiring about the status of the investigation.

Mr. Shea said that when he first contacted the Police Department, the report of the incident was not available. It was found the following day.

Sgt. Gary Quitadamo, spokesman for the Police Department, said the report was made on paper and was not in a computer file. Police found the report after going into the archives, he said.

Mr. Chesnis said Rev. Szantyr started an altar boy society shortly after arriving at the parish, and his son was in it.

Mr. Chesnis said that after making the police report, he was taken to the district attorney's office where he met with Mr. Conte, (See Correction) an assistant district attorney and other people he described as office staff.

"I got the idea from the meeting that they were trying to dissuade me from bringing charges against the priest," he said. He was told that his son might be stigmatized and shamed if criminal charges were brought, because he still attended the parish school.

Mr. Conte said he recalls the meeting differently. He said Mr. Chesnis and his wife were in process of a divorce and there was disagreement among them on whether to bring charges. Mr. Chesnis said he signed the paperwork to bring the charges while his former wife did not sign.

Mr. Chesnis said he had been assured by the late Bishop Timothy J. Harrington and the former pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa that criminal charges were not necessary because the priest "had been relieved of his duties as a priest and would have no more contact with children and youth," Mr. Chesnis said.

Rev. Szantyr also formerly served at Our Lady Immaculate parish, Athol, where he observed the 25th anniversary of his ordination in 1982. At the time he was a member of the Marian Order of the Immaculate Conception and was assigned to the Worcester Diocese in 1980. After ordination in 1957, he served various capacities for the Marianist order in Stockbridge and taught at Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury.

Correction - Date: August 18, 2002


Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said yesterday he did not meet with Richard Chesnis 15 years ago. It is a long-standing policy of Mr. Conte not to meet with people seeking criminal charges, at least until after there is an indictment or charges have been officially brought. Because of a reporting error, a story in yesterday's Telegram & Gazette indicated that Mr. Conte had a meeting with Mr. Chesnis after he sought to bring criminal charges against the Rev. John J. Szantyr.


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